Zoom & Telework make me sad?

We spend the day in on-line meetings and the evenings in on-line meetups. Does that make us feel connected with each other?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am spending a lot of time with my co-workers on Zoom and other video platforms; then I do online yoga in the evenings. When I am working I find that I am really distracted by the backdrops and feel like I am peering into people’s personal lives. Do I say something? When I do yoga, I feel alone and I miss the studio. At the end of the day I am really tired even though I have not gone out ? Is it like this for others during the quarantine? Valerie, Sausalito

Dear Valerie: These are indeed unusual times and I hope that you have a support network of friends and family. It’s good to reach out to others. They are probably feeling just like you.

We are all learning new communications etiquette. When we meet in person, say for a business meeting, all parties process the visual cues in micro-seconds… that’s probably why in-person meetings start off slowly with small talk. When you get invited to the boss’s office for the first time or have a job interview with a higher-up, subconsciously process data about this new space. You observe the decorations, diplomas and favorite photos, and spatial layout, as you also (try to) maintain the thread of conversation.

Kinesics

So, your question about backgrounds and micro-cues is relevant. Ray Birdwhistell, whom I studied with at Penn, proposed that kinesics, the study of human body motion, is culturally specific, and deeply invisible. There is a maxim frequently attributed to him that 30 to 40 percent of communications is verbal and 60 to 70 percent is paralinguistic (body language). I honestly never heard him say this. But, he did believe that all movement conveyed meaning. He would have a heyday today processing all the gestures, twitches, and blinks on telework channels.

Perhaps that is what makes Zoom-like video so tiring. We are trying to follow the the cues, but can’t quite grasp the subtlety: the speaker’s lips, eyebrows raise and lower, eye squint, flick of the hair: kinesics we need to interpret and respond to if we verbally jump in or back off. 

Connection Channels !!

Meanwhile, there is a third channel that Birdwhistell could not anticipate. We also have to process imperfect technology: things like a fuzzy connection, asynchronous dialogue, and poor background lighting. While TV watching brings expectations for professional media, this standard does not happen from home. I know this linked study was done in 2017 to support a video compression pitch…… but it suggests that we use subconscious reactions to judge video.

https://nscreenmedia.com/poor-quality-video-streaming-ruin-brand/


Does lower quality streaming decrease happiness and focus, and increase negative emotions? And, does better streaming make us happier, as the image suggests? Here is a PhD dissertation ready to be written!

Pink Kitty Backgrounds

During the past week, I found that simplicity works… yoga studios that stream a class with a blank wall and a live instructor keep my focus. That said, instructors who would normally be effective in-person do not necessarily translate well or telegenically into video. 

And, like you I find that meetings or classes with teleworkers can be jarring. Instead of focusing on the conversation, my attention wanders to the pink-kitty pillows and lumberjack shirts (are they really wearing pants?) Even when the background is a non-descriptive doorframe or window, our minds leap to fill in the pattern of the full room.

There’s a reason that business people have discovered backdrops, just like professionals on TV news! So, for practical tips, see this helpful Wall St. Journal article.

Video UNHappy Hours…

Perhaps the ultimate stress is “video happy hour.” It tends to be less happy that it sounds because of the intense time we stare at the screen without being able to look away and wander out. If we were sitting at a bar stool ‘IRL’ we might be nominally engaged with our phone, with the bartender and guests, and reacting, in a subtle way to sounds and motion throughout the establishment.

When we sit at home, it is all so new, and we are learning thee new video protocols together. As the technology matures, and we mature with it, we will, collectively, become more adept at reading on-line kinesics, wandering on and off the screen both mentally and physically, and settling into other peoples’ personal spaces. 

Corona Virus, Smartphone Transmit ?

Will touching an infected user’s smartphone help spread the Corona Virus?

Photo serves as metaphor: a doll with say eyes has a a facemask partially covering her visage. This raises a question about the hygiene and safety of using the touchscreen on our phones.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: With the Covic-19 virus spreading, should I be worried if someone shares a smartphone with me? I was looking at some pictures my friends had on their phones,  and I had to touch their screens to scroll. Meanwhile, it seems like my kids are always passing their phones back and forth to look at YouTube.  And, how about those TV screens on airplanes?  Lance, San Francisco.

Dear Lance:  I am a doctor of social science, not a medical doctor, so I cannot fully give you the advice you seek. But, on the social science side of things, some years ago Stephen King wrote a thriller called ‘Cell.’ Phones were at the heart of the pandemic. It was the signal, not germs, that spread the illness.

But, what is spreading COVIC-19? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) site says it might spread by touching the surface of an object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes….but they don’t think that’s the main way. Still, it’s good practice to be careful if you have a shared phone that passes among people you do not know well. This is not uncommon among groups of itinerants, the homeless, and poor. They are more likely to share a common phone and might be at a higher health risk to begin with.

Assuming you have a personal phone, you will likely touch it up to 2000 times a day. Good hygiene, in any season, says keep your phone out of the bathroom. Also, make it a regular habit to wipe down the screen with a soft cloth (not soap and water). A Web-MD story says ultra-violet light might be a way to eliminate airborne flu viruses, but other experts, like a clinical professor of pathology, says these effects are superficial.

Time-tested sage advice from the CDC is to routinely wash your hands with a 60% + alcohol based cleaner, or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

That said, transmission is not only about germs.  This gets us closer to social science and to the pandemonium Stephen King predicted. Speed of information and fragmented, half-truths can also broadcast fear and panic.

Phone Watch for Me?

Maxwell Smart, Agent 99, and their wearable devices

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I have never worn a phone watch, and am old enough to remember when Dick Tracy, the comic strip detective did have one. I see lots of folks my age wearing these watches and I am wondering if there are useful things to do with them or it just for style?  My kids got me one for Christmas but I have the option to return it. J. McQueen, Tiburon

Dear J. McQueen: So apropos that you remember Dick Tracy and his wrist gadget, rather than another pop-hero, Agent Maxwell Smart. Smart had to use footware, namely his covert shoe-phone for conversations!

I do worry, if people chose the wristwatch, that it could be  a constant source of distraction. It’s said that people  will glance at their check their wrist about 60 to 80 times a day. 

That said, your kids are on to something healthy!

HEALTH AND ELDERS:

There is lots of interest in the watch among older people. Business Insider did an informal survey and found that fifty-six percent of their panel over 73 years of age and 48 percent of Baby Boomers said they plan to buy an (Apple) watch.  Why? The watch hooks them up with FDA approved health features like an electrocardiogram (EKG) app, fall detection, diabetes monitoring, and the like.

Apple sold an estimated 33 million units of these watches in 2019 and one of the interesting trends is that so many older people are interested and more than half of the owners of the watch are women. This is unheard of in the geeky-gadget world.

NAVIGATING  THE WATCH:

From a transportation perspective, the watch may help you take ‘bigger footsteps’. You can use it to set a walking goal each day, and count your footsteps. One  very useful application  is to get directions and navigation.

In a different blog, I wrote about using devices with voice commands (like a pinkie ring) to have seamless, integrated travel trips. Hopefully you could use voice commands to navigate when you need directions, just like using WAZE in the car.  And, it’s entirely feasible  to use that watch to book a ride, pay the fare, get walking directions, and send updates to the people you are meeting up with. It will just take some time to learn all the steps (!), as well as putting a credit card on file.

GATEWAYS TO….?

These digital watches are said to be a “gateway product” to the future. If you chose to enter just be sure that when you wear it on your wrist, you wrestle with data sharing and privacy.